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ON DEMAND

Wearable tech helps an MIT scientist remember his whole life

By Natasha Frost, Madis Kabash
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Think back to a recent event: where you were, what it looked like, how it made you feel. Perhaps you recall the decor in the room, or who was with you. If you’ve got a really good memory, you might even remember what they were wearing. For scientist Neo Mohsenvand, accessing recollections of recent events is a little different—and quite a lot more accurate.

Mohsenvand can all but place himself back in the room for any event. For the past nine months, he’s used a variety of technology to record every aspect of his life, from what he ate for breakfast down to the shifting speeds of his own heart rate over the course of the day.

Mohsenvand is a researcher in the Fluid Interfaces team at MIT Media Lab, where scientists are developing wearable technology they hope could make us better at regulating emotions, making decisions or remembering the past. The project—called Mnemo, from Mnemosine, the Greek goddess of memory—may one day be able to help people suffering from memory loss.

Before the team can do that, they need data. That’s why Mohsenvand has become his own research subject, collecting a trove of information—the faces he sees, the objects he interacts with, the patterns around him—for them to work with. Now, he has a database of sorts of everything that’s happened to him—or, as he calls it, a “collection of his memories.”

He wears a contraption that allows him to record video, paired with devices that monitor physiological changes, from skin conductance, which reveals stress levels, to his body temperature. Initially, he told Quartz, his girlfriend wasn’t delighted about being filmed all the time. But she’s learned to adapt, and now she says she’s grateful for the record of their time together.

Almost every evening, Mohsenvand sits back and rewatches the day’s events at lightning speed. He’s built what he calls a “sort of memory amplification system,” which condenses the day into five minutes while focusing on the “important moments.” It’s taught him to appreciate the little things that make him happy, from cooking lunch for his girlfriend to time spent biking together. “It’s kind of like a private psychologist,” he says.

Both of Mohsenvand’s grandmothers developed Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia. Looking after one of them inspired him to help develop products that don’t just soothe Alzheimer’s patients or prevent them from hurting themselves but perhaps even bring them back to functionality. A virtual-reality experience such as this may help, making memories instantly accessible externally for those who may otherwise be unable to recall them.

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